Reason # 4: We Secure the Strong rather than the Vulnerable

Why We Don’t and How We Can (Care for Creation)
These reflections are devoted to citing a number of obstacles that keep us from caring for creation. Many of us are absolutely committeed to do what we can to lower our destructive impact on Earth and to behave in ways that serve to diminish our impact and generate a positive restoration of Earth. Yet we often simply do not do that. Or at least we do not do as much as we think we should. We can open our eyes by doing a Fearless Moral Inventory, as AA calls it, to all living and non-living beings we have harmed. We can also become aware of the ways our personal behavior and our public witness are blocked or prevented by various personal reasons,cultural assumptions, and religious beliefs. We seek to name some of those blocks and suggest how we might change to make a difference.

 

Reason Number 4: Why we don’t (Because we think we will strengthen society by securing the strongest members to the neglect of the vulnerable)

Why we don't (Because we have a mentality that secures the strong).

We think that the way to survive and thrive is to save and secure the strongest members of a society. Hence, the idea that a large accumulation of wealth by a few will give everyone a job, good income, and health care. Benefits and entitlements are given to the powerful, partly because they have the power to give it to themselves but also because they believe the future rests in their hands alone.

There is an increasing erosion in support for the most vulnerable in our society: sick, elderly, disabled, veterans, poor, immigrants, hungry, working poor, people of color, and on and on.

Unfortunately such a mentality leads to a predator society, because the weak are dispensable ,and they are the prey that serves as the basis for the rich and powerful to secure themselves. There are species of animals that behave similarly. They leave a weak member behind to fend for themselves. They kill the vulnerable. They neglect the sick and ailing.

In some sense, we are hard-wired for this. It is instinctual to save yourself and your own. Let everyone fend for themselves and the strong will win. We saw this in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The vulnerable—the poor, elderly, sick, those with disabilities, people of color—were without resources and many died. And they were the last to be rescued. Even then they have never really been taken care of.

How we can (Strengthen all of Earth community by securing its most vulnerable members)

Early Christianity had a different notion. They believed that the strength of a society lay in how well they cared for the most vulnerable. Only if the whole society survives together does that society have a chance to thrive.

We see a model of this in the Jewish tradition and laws of the ancient nation of Israel. There we see God’s preferential option for widows and orphans. The poor are assured a section of the field to be left unharvested for them to gather the gleanings. And we see it in the laws that govern the way they were committed to the stranger and resident aliens in their midst, to give them hospitality with solidarity.

We see it in Jesus who came “to seek and to save the lost”—sick, disabled, hungry, oppressed, exploited, outcasts, lepers, possessed, tax collectors, and so on. His entire public activity in brining in the kingdom of God was devoted to “the least of these.”

We see it in Paul’s letters. Every time there was a dispute in his churches, he sided with the weak—in Antioch with those who were excluded from table fellowship, in Galatia where Paul defended the uncircumcised, in Corinth when he sided with those left out of the shared meal, and in Rome where he defended those committed to keeping Judean law. Paul always sided with the weak against the strong, and he called for the strong to change.

We see that this is the bent of the biblical God, seeking justice and well-being for everyone and at the same time leaning with compassion toward those suffering the most. Our whole society can learn this.

We can also learn this from eco-systems. There must be balance. If one species becomes too strong, the entire community of life is threatened. And we think that a minor animal such as an owl or other endangered species exists by itself without having an important place in an eco-system of Earth community. But if these endangered species—the most vulnerable in the animal kingdom—are lost, the whole system is at risk. If we do not realize the importance of members most at risk, we will lose it all.

So we need to reverse our conception and realize that if our society is bent with toward securing the vulnerable, we will show that we are a society of justice and compassion. We will care for one another. We will not let the weak fend for themselves. We will change the system to compensate for our proclivity to exploit. We will seek the common good above our personal advantage.

Lutherans care for the vulnerable in spades: Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Social Services, Lutheran Disaster Relief, Lutheran Immigration Services, Lutheran Hunger Program, a Campaign against Malaria, among others—and with a long legacy of hospitals, orphanages, homes for the aged, and other institutions that reach to the margins and bring people into community and ministry. I grew up in that milieu as my father, Luke Rhoads, left pastoral ministry to begin the Allegheny Lutheran Homes for the Aged and to be Director of Lutheran Social Services in Central Pennsylvania. These homes bear an incredible legacy of service in the name of Jesus who sought out those in need.

Lutherans also have a legacy to care for earth. We have the longest standing full time position of any major denomination in the area of Hunger and Environmental Education. Mary Minette is our point person on these issues in Washington. She was preceded by others—Job Ebenezer, Danielle Wiellever, Matthew Anderson-Stembridge (to name those I have known)—no less committed to secure a sustainable environment with an awareness that the failure to secure the land is a failure to secure food for the hungry.

Now we at Lutherans Restoring Creation are adding our voices to the chorus of all creation , seeking justice and peace for Earth community. As Lutherans, we will do what we need to do on behalf of the ecosystems of nature—to restore them so as to protect the weakest and most vulnerable—and thereby secure the whole. This kind of commitment is critical to the well-being of Earth Community.

This is why both ecology and human justice intersect. They are absolutely interrelated. We use and abuse nature just as we use and abuse people. We must be consistent in both if we are to secure Earth-community for future generations.

So we need to change our mentality and our instincts. Jesus often said things that went against our instincts: love your enemy, turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, seek out the lost. Now we include the prescription to care for all the life of Earth community—human and non-human members—especially the most vulnerable.

Paul said that all creation is groaning in travail waiting for the revelation of children of God who will live by peace and justice for all creation. Lutheran ethicist Larry Rasmussen gave a paper about how many resources Lutherans have for this work and wondering when we will step up in the most forceful way to care for Earth Community. He suggested in the title of his paper that the groaning creation was “waiting for the Lutherans.” To read the full script of his paper, click here.

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